Dance/movement therapy and the forbidden topic: money

Street Art by Banksy

Street Art by Banksy

As with most of my blog posts, I am motivated to write about something that is relevant to me in the moment. The topic for a post might be something I witnessed in my day as a dance/movement therapist, commentary about what’s happening in the dance/movement therapy community, or an issue I am dealing with on a personal level. The topic of money (the forbidden topic) has been increasingly apparent in my life. It’s no secret that mental health professionals are usually overworked and underpaid. It sort of goes with the territory of pursuing the field. Although this is a phenomenon in our work we never seem to talk about it. Currently the phenomenon of working hard and getting paid little is directly influencing my life and I want to talk about. Gosh darn it I want to talk about money.

I bet I’m not far off when I say that most people do not pursue a career in the mental health profession to make money. Instead, motivation to become a counselor, or in my case a dance/movement therapist, is motivated by more altruistic reasons. “I like helping people,” or, “I hope to create positive change in the world,” are more probable reasons in becoming a mental health professional. This is definitely true in my experience. For me, becoming a dance/movement therapist was always a way of merging my passion for dance and psychology.

Despite what our motivations are in becoming a dance/movement therapist there is the reality of money and having to support ourselves no matter how hard we try to ignore it. There’s no getting around the fact that I need to purchase food and pay for rent. We’re talking the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs here folks. Some might argue that I love my job and that I help people. Some might say that I get paid when I witness my clients grow daily- shouldn’t that be enough? I want to take a moment to honor that point now. YES I do love my job. YES it is rewarding to see growth in my clients. YES it is amazing to be a dance/movement therapist.  Yet, unfortunately, I think my landlord would give me a strange look if I tried to pay (or not pay) for rent by saying, “But sir, I love my job.”

During graduate school, I combated my financial needs by working as a server/bartender. This was also a way for me to decrease my dependence on school loans. I’ve continued working as a bartender, usually working on Saturday nights, to fluff the salary I make as a full-time dance/movement therapist. So yes, that’s right, I work full-time as a dance/movement therapist and then a couple of nights as a bartender. Most people think I am crazy for working two jobs, and hey, maybe I am. Only recently have I expressed to my restaurant manager that I might need to slow down. This fact of course comes with the fear that if I do I won’t be able to pay my bills.

Artwork by Banksy

Artwork by Banksy

I hope I’ve made myself clear by saying I am not calling for the masses to confront the phenomenon of the low paying mental health position. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, my parents have supported me in a lot of ways, but after college money was not one of them (and hell, I’m 27 for crying out loud). Nor do I have a wealthy partner, or in my case, a wealthy husband. I come from a long line of blue-collared workers, and thus work is what I do to make money. I take a lot of pride in my work ethic and my blue collared roots, but I definitely could use an outlet to talk about what to expect post-graduation when the Sallie Mae monster comes knocking on my door. What I am wondering is why this topic is something we never get to talk about in the dance/movement therapy community?

I certainly cannot be the only emerging dance/movement therapist who is facing such issues. I cannot be the only recent graduate from a dance/movement therapy program that has entered into a less-than lovely salaried dance/movement therapy position. Or maybe my words resonate with experienced dance/movement therapists who were once in a similar position. Let me re-state, I do love my job but I ultimately feel frustration in the fact that I do not get paid a sustainable income. I get that working in a mental health position was my choice and that this choice was not motivated by money. I get that I’ve got to put my time in, work the lower paying jobs to get some experience so that I have the knowledge to work in the higher paid positions.

I get that. I do. But who can I talk to about this, or where can I go to find support in this? Or, maybe I’m just a blue collared girl in a not so blue collared career. What I will suggest is that maybe it should be OKAY to talk about money and that the topic of money should not be so forbidden. Because frankly, as dance/movement therapists, we have a specific skill set that SHOULD be well paid for.  Is that so bad to say? No, it’s not.  As much fulfillment as we get out our jobs as dance/movement therapists they are still jobs and our livelihood.  The sooner we can say this out loud the sooner we can begin a conversation about money.

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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7 Responses to Dance/movement therapy and the forbidden topic: money

  1. Jeannine says:

    1. great topic–you are NOT alone in your sentiments. 2. love the Banksy art. 3. you are brave and awesome!

  2. Pingback: Let’s talk about money. – Thinking Turtle

  3. thank you for bringing up a topic that is close to my heart, and kicking me into writing after a long hiatus. i had too many thoughts for a comment, but wrote a response on my blog. in short, though, even though i’m not yet working, i agree with you wholeheartedly.

  4. Christina says:

    I’m currently doing my masters in clinical mental health counseling with intentions of becoming certified as a dance/movement therapist and I’m already cringing at potential salary earning paired with crippling student loans. I’m fortunate enough to be living at home which takes a huge weight off of my shoulders in regards to rent, gas, etc. so that I can focus on financing my education, but I am so concerned about the future.

    • your concern for the future is certainly valid, but it can be done (maybe not easily, but it can be done). all for the love of DMT, am I right? thanks for reading and commentating.

  5. asher says:

    I am totally with you, here! While I believe deeply in the value of Doing What You Love (and its correlate, Education For Its Own Sake, and apparently also in Capital Letters For Important Concepts) I also really think there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of making room in the course of education for a conscious discussion of the realities of making ends meet in a given career path. The world is more likely to sustain a working population of DMTs if we can prepare ourselves for the financial realities we’ll face in the field, and doing that before we’re out there working makes a lot of sense.

    Likewise, I think it’s something we should be talking about as professionals and as a profession.

    Thank you for being brave enough to write this post!

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